As I tried to figure out why my baby might be crying last night, it occurred to me this would make a great blog post! Over nearly 9 years of trying to figure out why 4 babies are crying, I’ve come up with quite the mental checklist I work through, and I’m sharing that with you today.
Let’s begin with me reminding you all that I’m not a doctor or any kind of medical professional. I am not a parenting expert. This post is not intended to take the place of advice from the aforementioned types of people. I am just a mom who’s now had 4 babies who have all cried for various reasons that I’ve sometimes figured out and other times not.
So, non-expert parent to parent, let’s discuss some reasons why your baby may be crying, shall we?
Assuming you’ve assessed the situation and your baby isn’t in any immediate danger, (like they’re not bleeding or struggling to breathe), let’s start with the obvious – because sometimes the obvious is the easiest to overlook.
First- BREATHE. And yes, I mean you. Take a deep breath and try to not tense up. I am a believer in that whole “babies can pick up on your stress” theory. We’ve already established they aren’t in danger, and we know babies cry. So this is fine. They’re going to be fine.
Is their diaper dirty or wet? Did you just change it? Well, check it anyway. Sometimes babies can load a diaper minutes after you changed it and you won’t smell or hear them do it. A super wet diaper can make them just as uncomfortable.
(And yes, this even happens to experienced parents, or at least this experienced parent. From 2 until 7 this morning, we couldn’t figure out why Wallace was so fussy. Turns out? Oh, he was just laying in a super gross diaper that we totally forgot to check.)
Are they hungry? Did you just feed them? Doesn’t matter. They could be hungry again. Babies do this thing called “cluster feeding” sometimes where it seems like they are eating non-stop for HOURS. The good news is sometimes this means they are about to sleep for a nice long stretch, but other times they’re just really hungry, so don’t get too excited.
Photo by Kelly White Photography, Glass bottle by Joovy.
When they are newborns and my nipples are on fire, I give myself a break by giving them a bottle of pumped breastmilk 1-2x a day. This makes it much easier on me when they are cluster feeding. I pump when they finally do sleep for a long stretch and my boobs feel like they are going to explode.
Are they gassy? Do you need to burp them? Are they pulling their legs up in a crunch position and straining? Try bicycling their legs or giving them something to settle their tummy like gripe water. Try putting a warm (not too hot) pad or compress on their tummy.
Photo by Kelly White Photography
Are they hot or cold? This is the reason my baby was crying yesterday. He was in a fleece sleeper, swaddled. I couldn’t figure out why he was so fussy until I looked what I was wearing- lightweight cotton pjs. I stripped him down to a diaper and he was immediately a happier baby. Remember to dress baby similarly to what makes you comfortable in that environment. Is your AC blasting? Baby’s bare arms might be cold. Is your heater on? No need to dress them like they’re about to go shovel snow.
Are they tired? Even if they just woke up, they might need another nap. Because sometimes life calls for back to back naps. They may have only woken to eat or because their diaper woke them and they weren’t planning to stay awake.
Photo by Kelly White Photography
Moving on to the not so obvious…
Are they laying on something uncomfortable? Did a rogue pacifier end up under them? Is a buckle in a swing or car seat pinching them or poking them in the back? Is a sleeper zipper rubbing them under the chin?
Is there a stray, long hair wrapped around them somewhere? Do you or does anyone in the home have long hair? Did one fall off and find it’s way wound around their toe, their neck, their finger, their penis (oh yes, that is a thing that happens)?
Is there something in their eye? I remember when my first was 3 months old, crying for some unknown reason until my sister discovered he had an eyelash in his eye (likely mine since his were nonexistent at that point). She gently blew on his face, causing him to blink until the eyelash was flushed out. That was some Aunt Magic.
Is it too quiet or loud for them to sleep? Sometimes babies will sleep much better in a chaotic room. Wallace- 4th baby- sleeps best when the TV is on! When we start to shut everything down at night, we have to turn on our white noise app pretty loud or he’ll wake up. On the other hand, sometimes babies get overstimulated, especially in large crowds of people. You may need to sneak off to a quiet room to try to get them to calm down and doze off when you’re at a family gathering.
Swaddling with the Ollie swaddle before a walk around the room to soothe him. Photo by Kelly White Photography.
Do they want to be rocked/jiggled/bounced? Some babies do well with a little motion to soothe them. All of mine really like to be bounced and jiggled. My first had colic, and I spent many nights bouncing – hard- on a yoga ball while holding him.
Do they need a change of scenery? A walk outside or a drive in the car can work wonders sometimes.
Are they sore from being held too much? Have they been passed from aunt to uncle to grandma and 15 cousins in the last hour? I don’t mean to imply you can “spoil a baby.” But are they literally being held in uncomfortable positions for too long? People holding them under the arms, holding them up, oohing and ahhing over them?
Do they need to be held more? Again, you can’t spoil a baby. Sometimes babies just need to be held, and sometimes it helps to strip them down, take your shirt off, wrap them close to you (either with a baby wrap to support them, or hold them to your chest with a blanket over you both) and get some skin-to-skin time in.
Are they teething? Some babies (um, mine) start teething really early. I think ours were teething by 3-4 months old. “Teething” doesn’t have to produce teeth for quite some time. It can take forever, unfortunately. It’s hard when they are really young and don’t have the coordination to put teethers in their mouth. You can help them by holding something like Baby’s First Toothbrush in their mouth, or rubbing some teething oil on their gums.
Photo by Kelly White Photography
Unfortunately, sometimes we never know why our babies are crying or how to comfort them. I’ve been there. My first cried so much for the first 8-12 weeks of his life. They say he had “colic” which is just a fancy word for “we don’t really know what’s wrong with him” I think.
That was a REALLY rough time for all of us. I can honestly tell you, nearly 9 years later, that I have blocked much of that part of his life from memory. The few memories I do have are of me crying, BEGGING him to please stop, rocking him, shooshing him, swaddling him, bouncing on the yoga ball with tears streaming down my face.
In hindsight, I think this Period of Purple Crying describes what he was going through perfectly.
If this is you and your baby, beyond encouraging you to keep following up with your pediatrician, I will tell you to give yourself permission to walk away. To put that crying baby down to cry in a safe place like a crib, and go outside where you can’t hear them for a few minutes.
It wasn’t until I had that inconsolable infant that I finally understood why a parent would shake a baby. In fact, according to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, the #1 trigger for shaken baby syndrome is frustration with a baby’s crying. You will do far less harm by leaving your crying baby to cry alone while you collect yourself.
I’m sure I’ve missed some random reasons why babies cry, so chime in and let us know in the comments! I’d love to hear about that time you figured out why your baby was crying and it totally surprised you.